Consumption versus asset smoothing: testing the implications of poverty trap theory in Burkina Faso
Despite solid theoretical foundations for the notion that poor, borrowing-constrained households will intertemporally manage assets to smooth consumption, the consumption-smoothing hypothesis has not always withstood empirical scrutiny. This paper reassesses the intertemporal asset management problem with a poverty trap model and shows that we would expect to see asset smoothing, not consumption smoothing, in the neighborhood of critical asset levels at which optimal accumulation behavior bifurcates. We then employ threshold estimation techniques to empirically confirm the co-existence of consumption and asset smoothing regimes using a household panel data set from West Africa. Households above the estimated threshold almost completely insulate their consumption from weather shocks, whereas those below the threshold do not. These results not only indirectly provide evidence of the existence of poverty traps but also speak to the level and incidence of the costs of uninsured risk.
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